Olympic Trials Men’s 400H — Rai Benjamin Oh-So-Close To WR

Rai Benjamin was a mere 0.06 shy of breaking Kevin Young’s longstanding best of 46.78. (KEVIN MORRIS)

OLYMPIC TRIALS TRACK EVENTS rarely begin their qualifying rounds with an overwhelming, odds-on favorite. This year’s men’s 400H was an exception. Rai Benjamin, equal third-fastest in the event’s history, was far ahead of all potential challengers on the yearly list with his 47.13. But unexpected things happen often at this meet.

The ’19 WC silver medalist’s position was confirmed in the first round, when he won easily, clocking a 49.12 despite running so slowly that he lost his step sequence.

Others weren’t so lucky: Quincy Downing led his heat until he fell at hurdle 9; Amere Lattin was DQed for stepping on the line; Quincy Hall stopped after several hurdles with an injury. And new NCAA champion Sean Burrell, second on the year list at 47.85, looked like a true novice in his eleventh career race, basically hopping over some barriers until he hit No. 8 and sprawled on the track.

Kenny Selmon led the semis qualifiers with his 48.51. Aldrich Bailey, another novice who had earlier competed in the 400 heats, improved significantly to 49.20 in only his ninth hurdle race ever. Benjamin ran smoothly (“probably 65% effort”) over nine barriers, then simply jogged to the finish in 48.61. “The World Record isn’t on my mind,” he said. “I just want to make this team 100%. That’s my No. 1 focus.”

The final commenced at 6:40 p.m., with the on-field temperature display showing 100 (38C). Benjamin was off quickly in lane 5, with Selmon to his outside and Dave Kendziera in lane 4. Hurdling smoothly and alternating lead legs, he trailed early leader Khallifah Rosser for the first 200, slightly ahead of Selmon and 3m up on Kendziera.

From the beginning of the curve, Benjamin began a decisive move, accelerating away from everyone, and entered the straight with a 3m lead on Selmon, with Rosser, Kendziera and Bailey following. Striding forward powerfully with arms pumping, he maintained his form to the finish.

The time was astonishing: 46.83, second-fastest in history, only 0.05 off Kevin Young’s 29-year-old record, and certain to cause some thoughtful moments in Norway and Qatar.

Selmon likewise held his form to the finish, recording a PR 48.08, while Kendziera (48.38 PR) and the surprising Bailey (48.55 PR) passed Rosser (48.81) after the last hurdle.

Said Selmon, “When I saw Rai’s time, I knew I had a personal best. I went, ‘Oh, wow! He ran that?’ To take that Olympic team victory lap is something I’ve dreamed about for a long time. I’m just blown away for it to actually happen.”

Reflecting on the record, Benjamin said, “It hurts a little bit that it was right there and I couldn’t grab it; point-0-5 isn’t anything in the grand scheme of things. It’s just more fuel for the fire. I had to hold back a lot on that backstretch because the hurdles come faster than I anticipate them. I think there’s a lot more there. I can’t say for sure, but I felt really strong coming home.

“I know I can run 46-low right now if I really actually tried, and that’s no disrespect to anyone. I know I can run a lot faster.”

MEN’S 400 HURDLES RESULTS

(June 26)

1. Rai Benjamin (Nik) 46.83 PR (WL, AL) (2. 2 W, A);

2. Kenny Selmon (unat) 48.08 PR;

3. Dave Kendziera (unat) 48.38 PR;

4. Aldrich Bailey (unat) 48.55 PR;

5. Khallifah Rosser (unat) 48.81;

6. Isaiah Levingston (Ok) 49.25;

7. Cameron Samuel (USC) 49.27;

8. Trevor Bassitt (Ash) 50.03.

(lanes: 2. Bassitt; 3. Bailey; 4. Kendziera; 5. Benjamin; 6. Selmon; 7. Samuel; 8. Rosser; 9. Levingston)

(reaction times: Kendziera 0.172; Samuel 0.199; Bassitt 0.206; Selmon 0.212; Bailey 0.228; Levingston 0.231; Benjamin 0.235; Rosser 0.279)

HEATS (June 24)

I–1. Selmon 49.03; 2. Levingston 49.06; 3. William Spencer (SC) 49.84; 4. Bailey 49.99 PR; 5. Eric Fogltanz (IaSt) 51.63; 6. Paramveer Chohan (unat) 52.70;… dq—Quincy Downing (unat).

II–1. Benjamin 49.12; 2. Kendziera 49.19; 3. Rosser 49.28; 4. CJ Allen (unat) 49.45; 5. Quivell Jordan (Hous) 50.31; 6. Collin Harden (Young) 50.81; 7. Nicholas Hilson (Ar) 51.63.

III–1. TJ Holmes (Nik) 49.90; 2. Caleb Dean (Md) 50.03; 3. Drake Schneider (MtStB) 50.57; 4. Joshua Smith (SamH) 50.83; 5. Sean Burrell (LSU) 1:07.32;… dnf—Quincy Hall (adi);… dq[lane]—Amere Lattin (adi).

IV–1. Samuel 49.89; 2. Jonathan Harvey (Or) 49.95; 3. Charles Brockman (Tx) 49.98; 4. Bassitt 49.99; 5. Cass Elliott (Wa) 51.19; 6. Colten Yardley (BYU) 52.32.

SEMIS (June 25)

I–1. Selmon 48.51; 2. Rosser 49.04; 3. Levingston 49.34; 4. Allen 49.72; 5. Dean 49.78; 6. Schneider 50.89; 7. Jordan 50.94; 8. Holmes 53.98.

II–1. Benjamin 48.61; 2. Samuel 49.01; 3. Kendziera 49.05; 4. Bailey 49.20 PR; 5. Bassitt 49.37; 6. Harvey 49.53; 7. Brockman 49.54; 8. Spencer 50.52.

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